Big change can happen through the efforts of small communities

We all noticed what the decrease in carbon emissions during lockdown did for our environment: a lighter global footprint gave us a welcome glimpse at how quickly the transition to a cleaner world can happen. We were also reminded that pollution lowers our resistance to disease; the humble bar of soap is a powerful weapon in our fight against both climate change and disease; and that big change can happen through the efforts of small communities.

Olive Finn (centre) with staff.

“Whenever I feel down about the damage we’re doing to our planet, I look at the shelves filled with soap in the shop,” says small business owner Olive Finn. 

Olive and her husband Andy Finn are one of many small independent health food stores all over Ireland who responded to the needs of their community as an essential service during lockdown.

“I love that eight shelves in just one corner of the shop that were previously filled with plastic bottles full of hand wash, shampoo, conditioner, body wash are now replaced with the humble bar of soap that does the exact same job without the single-use plastic bottle; and the simple beauty of all this is it leaves no trace….”

Passionate about helping to achieve change, in 2018 Olive and Andy opened Cork’s first minimal waste store, Twig-Refill, which although currently closed to the public due to restrictions, is still fighting the fight against plastic, packaging and waste through its sister shop The Olive Branch.

In the past six months during this pandemic, it’s become evident how important a part the ancient and humble bar of soap actually plays in our health.

Just 20 seconds of thorough scrubbing and the pin-shaped molecules of soap will penetrate the types of bacteria and viruses, including COVID-19, that protect themselves with an oily lipid membrane.

We only have to look at Australia, who are six months ahead, to see how effective social distancing and good hand hygiene has been in reducing transmission of the flu virus.

A firm believer in something good always coming out of something bad, Olive says that the pandemic forced people to reassess their lifestyles. “Communities started moving back towards town centres for the interaction, service and support provided by small shops like The Olive Branch,” she says. “We’ve noticed an increase in business with people using us as a daily grocery store.”

A food first shop, The Olive Branch also offers a centre of support to people in the local community.

“Right at the beginning of lockdown, we realised how important the shop was for people,” says Olive. “Although our team was worried that the personality of the shop would change – and of course it did to some degree – we were adamant we’d keep that conversation going with our customers and to listen as much as we always did.”

Many people felt overwhelmed by anxiety and fear during lockdown and centres like The Olive Branch were there to offer a sympathetic ear and support and advice on coping strategies.

“We took it day by day,” says Olive, who had to step away from the shop with Andy during lockdown due to health reasons. “Our team was really amazing and kept the space as bright and the atmosphere as upbeat as possible.”

“We spend too much time looking at things on a global level,” she emphasises. “If we work on a very positive level within our own communities and stop looking outside, that’s when positive change and improvement is made.”

We’re now heading in to the winter and a good diet, exercise, fresh air and sleep are all key to strengthening our immune system and giving our bodies the best possible chance to fight off coronavirus.

And for anyone needing an extra boost, The Olive Branch stocks a vast array of immune boosting supplements to support our bodies during oncoming winter 

“Good nutrition is so important right now,” says Olive, who has upped the supply of local and organic fruit and veg in the shop to meet demand.

“It might take a bit more time to live like this but that’s definitely something good to come out of lockdown: it showed us that we can find the time if we really want to.”

WCP Staff

WCP Staff Writer

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